MINISTER Jan O’Sullivan will visit the Clare VEC Shannon Adult Learning Centre next Friday where she will meet students and tutors and get a flavour of the programmes and courses ongoing in the centre.
Her visit is part of the Aontas Adult Learning Festival, a Celebration of Learning and which includes a number of events around Clare.
Conor Flynn is a guidance counsellor with the VEC and he says there has been a lot more demand for services around Clare and at the centre in Brú na Sionna over the last few years. “Especially since the construction industry declined, we have a lot more males, young lads who might never have considered something like healthcare. They might be doing FETAC level 5 and several have gone on to do the full healthcare award and now work in nursing homes or respite centres or places like that. Others see it as an opportunity to go on and follow a dream career or get a higher education. We have the Leaving Cert as well so many of these lads left school after the Junior Cert and they’re coming back doing the Leaving Cert.”
Máire Dempsey works with the Clare Adult Basic Education Service (CABES) at the centre in Shannon and she agreed the amount of take-up by males has increased significantly. “It’s very indicative of what’s going on in the economy. When we opened first, there were low numbers of males attending the centre and they might have been coming for DIY courses or very specific things. But in the last two years, there’s a steady stream coming in, finding out what’s going on and accessing the various courses.”
She said the timing of courses is tailored to the students’ needs. “Most of the courses that are on here are part-time and they’re done during the day and the evening as well. It’s geared around the needs of the students and the times the students are able to avail of them.”
They also try and match students with appropriate courses. “We’re very much linked to what jobs are required and what’s current and needed. One thing we try and do is that if we can’t offer a course here within Clare VEC, we look at other organisations that may be offering it.”
Conor said many people, who come back to education after long absences can be very successful. “These are adults, who as secondary school students would have struggled sometimes or dropped out. And yet now they’re back because they want to be back and they’re more focused.”
The centre also provides English language classes for non-native speakers and about 50 people are currently taking them.
Learners at the centre are paired with volunteer tutors and local woman, Mary Ellen Fean, is one of these. She says she enjoys helping the students. “Before we began, we did a training course of about 10 weeks. After that, we each got allotted a client and they come from all walks of life, it could be a young person who needs help with reading or writing or non-nationals [sic] who need help with the language or you can get older people who are going back to school and doing the Leaving Cert or something like that. It’s incredibly fulfilling and I think it’s a very worthwhile thing to do.”
One learner at the centre, who didn’t want to be named, said going back to education has been very good for him. “I first enrolled in the adult learning centre last year and I can honestly say I have never looked back. First of all, I must admit that I was, to say the least, a bit apprehensive about the whole idea of going back to education because I had left school 40 years ago. On my first day, I felt nervous, it was just like starting a new job in a sense. This was a whole new experience for me. After a cup of tea and some friendly chat with the tutors, students and of course the personnel who manage the centre, I immediately began to feel at ease with my new surroundings.”
He feels returning to learning is a good way to deal with unemployment. “I lost my job four years ago like a lot of other people in this country. Unemployment brings lots of different problems to people but going back to education has given me the hope and confidence to face up to the trials and sometimes disappointments of life,” he said.